Tuesday, May 31, 2011

228 (2011 #33). Dreams of Joy

by Lisa See

This eagerly-anticipated sequel to Shanghai Girls is being released today.  It's not absolutely necessary to read the prequel before reading this book, but it's helpful, as it continues the story where Shanghai Girls left off.

Dreams of Joy begins in August 1957, when nineteen-year-old Chinese-American Joy Louie has just learned that the woman she thought was her mother (Pearl) is really her aunt, and her Aunt May is really her mother.  The man she thought was her father has just committed suicide (which Joy thinks is her fault), and her real father, Z. G. Li, is an artist in Red China.  Angry, naive, and rebellious, she decides to leave Los Angeles' Chinatown to find her father in Shanghai.  Pearl follows.  The story, covering the next three years and the Great Leap Forward, is told in alternating chapters by Pearl and Joy.  Joy's initial idealism in a rural commune followed by growing horror and disillusionment with famine and corruption contrasts well with Pearl's nostalgia in Shanghai followed by practicality and resourcefulness in saving her daughter.

Some of the things that Joy says and does and that happen to her are unrealistic (getting into China and finding her father as easily as she does, and meeting Chairman Mao, for instance).  At times I wanted to throttle her, because she made so many poor choices, but of course that was necessary for the plot.  It was riveting and I couldn't put the book down.  Joy does mature, thankfully.  The book's strengths are See's thorough research that brings this sorry period in Chinese history to life (I have to wonder if they'll let her into the country again), and her portrayal of motherhood and sisterhood. 

© Amanda Pape - 2011

[I received an advance reader's edition from the publisher.  It will be passed on to someone else to enjoy.]


  1. I just finished reading Lisa See's Dreams of Joy. Her previous books include Snow Flower and the Secret Fan; Peony in Love; and Shanghai Girls, in which we met sisters Pearl and May, who traveled from Shanghai to Los Angeles in the 1930s. See's new book, Dreams of Joy, begins when Pearl's nineteen-year-old daughter returns to China to find her father (who never knew of her existence) and to become a part of "the Great Leap Forward." Youthfully oblivious to the realities of Communist China and angry at her mother and aunt, Joy undertakes a journey that reunites her with her past but endangers her future. When Pearl risks everything to follow Joy to China, we see the depth of her love for her daughter and witness the strong ties to family and country that are the main themes of the novel. The amazing resilience and resolution of the wonderfully realized characters, and their brave and daring actions, also make this book a definite page-turner.

    1. I so agree, Sverige! Thank you for commenting.